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Home :: Archive :: 2004 :: March ::
"Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 15.0693  Tuesday, 16 March 2004

[1]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 2004 11:41:03 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

[2]     From:   Ken Steele <
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        Date:   Monday, 15 Mar 2004 12:59:10 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

[3]     From:   Peter Groves <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 16 Mar 2004 15:43:43 +1100
        Subj:   Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 2004 11:41:03 -0500
Subject: 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

I'd like to second Ivan Lupic's sensible ripost[e] to the linguistic
purists.  I'd be interested to know whether they all either read and
teach Homer and Dostoevsky in Greek and Russian or not at all.  Beyond
that, let me briefly summarize some points, mostly made many times in
the history of this list:

(1)  We cannot with any confidence recapture the sounds of spoken early
modern English, so the auditory dimension of these plays is always
already corrupt.

(2)  We cannot with any confidence know just where to find "Shakespeare"
in the printed texts around which this argument swirls, and which
represent the contributions of other writers, other actors, scribes,
theatrical book-holders, censors, printers, type-setters, book-sellers,
and three centuries of commercial and academic editors.

(3)  The source-texts for these texts sometimes appear in multiple
forms: how do we choose among them -  which is "Shakespeare"?

(4)  Scholars who have spent their professional lives studying these
texts and their contexts cannot with confidence assert that they
understand the significations of all the words and phrases and lines and
speeches and gestures and actions of the plays.  Can they be said to
know "Shakespeare"?

(5)  The plays are rarely produced uncut.  At what point does
"Shakespeare" disappear?  I think of the character in *Monty Python and
the Holy Grail* who loses limb after limb, but fights on.  At what point
is he no longer himself?  That is, I would liken the cutting of some
words and phrases and lines and speeches or the cutting or combining of
minor characters to the cutting of hair or nails, ears, noses (I've seen
something like 18 productions of *Othello*: I have never seen the Clown
on stage); deeper cuts to the loss of hands and feet; deeper yet to the
loss of arms and legs: at what point does "Shakespeare" become something
else?  In this analogy the replacement of an obscure or confusing early
modern word is like cosmetic surgery: does a nose job or a tummy tuck
change a personal identity?  I am willing to bet large money that if I
were to find 30 people at the SAA meeting in New Orleans who had not
seen any of the Russian animated versions of Shakespeare (which run
about 30 minutes each), put them in a room, and and begin to screen one
of the films with the titles and subtitles removed, all 30 would be able
to say within less than a minute that they were watching *The Tempest*.
  At what point does "Shakespeare" appear or disappear?

All things being equal we'd like to think that students are eager to do
hard work and that teachers have the time, energy, patience,
imagination, and training to help their pupils master these difficult
and demanding texts in all their linguistic, theatrical, and historical
complexity.  Should they not try at all if they cannot do it all?  I
don't think so.

David Evett

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Ken Steele <
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Date:           Monday, 15 Mar 2004 12:59:10 -0600
Subject: 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

Perhaps I haven't followed this thread as carefully as I should have,
but Ivan Lupic's defense of studying Shakespeare in translation strikes
me as quite surprising.

If you come to the study of Shakespeare through a careful study of his
sonnets and non-dramatic poetry, you gain an appreciation for his
powerful skill with language -- rhyme, assonance, alliteration, rhythm,
newly-coined words, puzzling syntax and all -- the ways in which
Shakespeare created auditory art with words.  A translation to another
language, however well-written, is in many ways a new poem in another
language.

Naturally, Shakespeare's dramatic works also involve plot, narrative,
pacing, blocking, characterizations and so on, many of which can be
reflected in a translation -- even, as some have tried, a "translation"
to more prurient English, or more modern English, depending upon the
tastes of the day.  But translations are not complete, and certainly not
superior, for those who seek to study "Shakespeare."

If "Shakespeare without language is like a movie without sound," says
Lupic, "the superior quality of many a silent film gives me comfort."
Silent films offer a false analogy.  The accurate comparison should be
to a modern film with the soundtrack re-dubbed in another language.  In
comparison to which a silent film would give me comfort, too!

Yours,
Ken

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Peter Groves <
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Date:           Tuesday, 16 Mar 2004 15:43:43 +1100
Subject: 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare
Comment:        Re: SHK 15.0683 "Beware March 15!" but No Fear Shakespeare

It is not very clear to me why Ivan Lupic should feel personally
affronted by the fact that (as Valery remarked) poetry is that which is
lost in translation: even the best translations of Shakespeare's
dramatic poetry are (as one would expect) grossly impoverished (the same
is true of Virgil, Dante, Racine [and, I assume, of Pushkin, Li Po
...]).  What is extraordinary about Shakespeare's plays is their
demonstrated ability to survive and prosper in these impoverished
circumstances.

Peter Groves
Monash University

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